Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shred It

I saw this post, and I thought 'I can't believe I've never posted about vegetable pancakes!' Vegetable pancakes, galettes, rösti, or latkes are quick and easy to make, and are a great way to cram chockful of veggies into your diet. Because they are panfried, there's just enough fatty goodness to get kids to eat them, but not so much that you would feel guilty about eating them.

My mother is a fan of potatoes, and absolutely fell in love with the idea of potato pancakes after reading Hans Pieter Richter's children's novel Friedrich. So, despite growing up in an Asian household, potatoes in their many guises were very much  a part of my culinary upbringing. Having Jewish friends at school won latkes a permanent spot in my repertoire.

If, for some crazy reason, you are trying to cut back on the amount of potatoes you consume, the pancakes can be made with any combination of vegetables: leeks; beets; parsnips; rutabaga; onions... You don't even need to put spuds in the mix, but you would be wrong to omit them. The lowly potato is often maligned because of its association with many forms of junk foods and empty calories, but it  is actually a very healthful vegetable: it is low in fat and sodium; is a good source of vitamins C and B6, potassium and manganese. In fact, the potato was nominated vegetable of the year for 2008.

I do think, however, that potato pancakes are more interesting when they are made with more than just potatoes: leeks and potatoes are a marriage made in heaven, so my basic galette recipe usually contains alliums, but if you have vegetables that need to eaten in a hurry, pancakes are the perfect way to go. As a matter of fact, I happened to have some leftover beet slaw when I decided to make a batch of pancakes. The dressing merely adds extra flavour, and the raisins were a tasty addition.

Vegetable galettes are prettiest when made with a mandoline, but if you do not own one and have no intention of purchasing one in the near-future, a regular box grater (or a food processor) will do the trick, just use the small or medium holes. Make sure you grate the potatoes over a plate or the mixing bowl, to catch all the starchy juices: it will keep the rösti together. Regular pancake recipes call for some flour to bind the mix, and sometimes an egg, but they can easily be made gluten-free and vegan.  The vegan version could be a little softer than the original recipe, so you might want to dust each galette with some flour before frying to add extra crispness. You can also vary the seasoning by adding different spices such as ground cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme... How much fat you use is completely up to you: latkes are usually fried in quite a bit of oil in commemoration of a miraculous oil lamp, but you can just as easily succeed by using very little oil.

Vegetable Galettes
Makes enough to feed four as a side dish, or 2 as a main course

2 medium sized potatoes
1 medium beet
1 small rutabaga, or ½ a medium one
1 small celeriac
1 small onion or leek
3 eggs or 3Tbs flaxseed or chia meal plus 4Tbs water (or 3Tbs other egg replacer)
4 Tbs wheat flour or buckwheat or quinoa flour, or 2Tbs cornstarch
about ½tsp each salt and pepper
oil and/or butter for frying

Peel all the vegetables. The potatoes can be left un-peeled, but make sure you remove any eyes or sprouts.
Thinly slice the onion or leek, shred the others on a mandoline or grater.
Mix everything together, making sure there are no lumps of flour left.
In a deep frying pan over medium temperature, heat oil and butter until hot: if using only oil, it will be shimmering, if also using butter, the bubbles will be turning golden brown.
Drop vegetable mix by the spoonful into pan, flattening the mound to 1cm (1") thickness.
Cook until golden, about 5-6 minutes, before flipping over. Cook for another 5 minutes.
Drain on a paper towel before serving. You can keep them in a warm oven until you have finished cooking all the galettes.

Serve the pancakes as is, with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt, with a dab of homemade ketchup, and garnish with chopped parsley or green onions. If the galettes are the main course, serve a salad or a soup on the side. If you're in the mood for 'really junky food', you can use the pancakes as 'buns' in a sandwich (kind of reminds one of a certain fast food joint's recent introduction... But less gross!) These pancakes are also tasty cold, so left-overs can be brown-bagged the next day.

Bon app'!


Friday, October 29, 2010

November Creeps in on a Chill Wind...

Is it just me or is autumn bone-chilling cold this year? This year's late Indian Summer was very much welcome indeed, and I was finally be able to get all my last minute yard work done. Technically, I have until the first snowfall to rake up the leaves, get my compost piles ready for winter and to clean up the garden, but I might be away all of November, so I have get everything done now. I'm feeling a little harassed, strung-out and sleep deprived...

But before I even think about packing my bags, I have to write about November's seasonal treats. Unfortunately, we are fast approaching the gray and dreary dead season: the fields are close to bare all across the country, except for the few brave souls who have planted fall/winter crops. So there isn't very much to add to last month's lists of produce, but since I forgot a few, here is what you should be on the lookout for in November:

I am sure that you noticed their return when you prepared your family's turkey dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving, so this isn't really news. But did you know that the cranberry's increasing popularity has encouraged farmers across Canada to grow more crans? It used to be that local berries just barely provided for all the turkey dinners in October, the rest being supplemented by American productions. However, ever since it became known that atoka (the Iroquois word for cranberry) were native super-foods, the demand has skyrocketed, and growers in Eastern Canada has jumped onto the bandwagon. Locally produced cranberries are now available until the winter holiday season, and sometimes even past it. You can also find locally produced dried cranberries year-round.

In Europe, quinces practically symbolize autumn: these gnarly, fuzzy, crosses between pears and apples can be harvested from September to late November, but cannot be eaten out of hand (unless you want to lose a few teeth and rasp your tongue at the same time.) However, they are beguilingly fragrant cooked, and make a most beautiful jam or compote; just cooking quinces will fill your kitchen (or entire apartment, if you live in a mouse hole like me) with the most wonderful aromas of citrus, apples, pears, and... peaches and plums! This yellow-skinned, white-fleshed fruit turns into the most vibrantly hued, jewel-tone compote. If you are a fan of Spanish foods and tapas, you might have already delected yourself with some quince paste and Manchego cheese (membrillo con queso).

I've seen productive quince trees growing in Montreal, and in some orchard among apple and pear trees, so I know that they can grow in most areas across Canada, however, I have yet to see any Canadian quinces for sale at the market (most come from Europe, with a few Americans from time to time.) Perhaps those of you living on the West Coast will have better luck finding local quinces. If you do find some, do try them. For compotes, peel, quarter and core the fruits before chopping them into small chunks, and cook in a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar); do be careful when cutting into quinces: they can be surprisingly hard fruits, and are quite resistant to being chopped up. An easier -and less hazardous way - to prepare quinces is to hack at them with a cleaver, and cooking them in a simple syrup, skin, pips and all. When the flesh begins to fall apart, remove from heat, and pass through a sieve once cool enough to handle. Return the strained purée to the heat, and continue cooking. The sauce is ready when the quince has turned to a beautiful red wine colour. If, for some reason, you prefer a pale-straw coloured compote, lemon juice will slow the reddening process, but why you would want a white paste is beyond me!

Leafy Greens of all Kinds
Kales of all colours; chard; arugula; spinach, and company: I mentioned these guys last month, but I have to insist on them, because they still get a bad rap despite being extremely healthful and super tasty. Greens and mashed potatoes is an easy way to join the choir. This bean and Parmesan soup does not really need any more vegetables, but ribbons of kale or chard, quartered and sautéed Brussels sprouts, or a bunch of arugula or spinach added at the last minute will turn it into a complete meal. And if you want to make an impression at dinner tonight, why not make a soufflé?

Most of these leafy greens are hale and hardy vegetables, they are packed with nutrients and will resist snow cover, so local greens can be available until the snow melts.

It's hunting season. Frozen farmed game is often available year-round, but not always. For the greatest variety, fans of game meat must wait until autumn. Wild game is hard to come by in North-America, even at the best butcher shop, but they can sometimes be ordered, so ask around. The easiest way to get your hands on wild game is to hunt it yourself, or to befriend an avid hunter. Neither of which I am ready to do, however, farmed game is an acceptable alternative for those of you who find wild meats a bit too flavourful. Some of the larger supermarkets stock packaged game meat, but if you want to have a closer look at your meat, a good butcher a fine person to know. 

Although I written little about meat this year, I will admit that it is times like these (gray, foggy, and damp chill) that make me wish I weren't a die-hard vegetarian. A nice venison stew would be perfect just now. Brrr!

Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Romanesco
These members of the cabbage family are not the most cold-resistant crops, however, they are still hanging on in Quebec fields and will be around until a hard frost gets to them. Fall crops tend to be smaller than summer ones, but they are also more tender and much 'sweeter'.

The Romanescos and cauliflowers are especially pretty, and might convince picky eaters to give them a try. Farmers have been doubling their efforts to make the latter even more popular by growing coloured varieties: the markets stands were filled with orange, yellow and purple cauliflowers. And don't look at them crooked: the colourful cauls are not GMO crops, some are actually heirlooms, and others are just crossed with close cousins.

Leeks, and other Alliums
Leeks should become your best friends. In fact, you should become best friends with the entire allium family: onions, garlic, shallots and leeks are full of healthful benefits, and bring so much flavour to any food. If we all ate alliums on a daily basis, we would never worry about our breaths nor our health.

Leeks are especially wonderful members of the onion family, because they are actually considered like a full-fledged vegetable, and not just a flavour component in a recipe. Add them to a stir-fry, or to a roasting pan of anything (vegetables, chicken, pork...). Always put leeks in a soup, even if you already have onions and garlic in there, you can never have too much.

By the way, the cold weather has settled in, but farmers' markets in Montreal, and most large cities are not closed for the winter. Many will have moved to smaller, indoor quarters, and the variety on offer will not be as grand, but many markets are open during the colder seasons, so don't forget to swing by for local produce.

Bon app'!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Let Them Eat... Pie

Or a tart. Or a quiche... Anything with a crust, and savoury! 

It must be the weather. The chilliness that persists, even on the sunniest of days (or dreariest ones, like today)  have pushed my gears into 'hibernation' mode. I have been positively CRAVING salty, crunchy, starchy and fried lately. I am a firm believer that when one is properly tuned to one's body, one's cravings are an indication of what the body needs: it might just be my excuse for allowing myself to down an entire bag of chips (honestly, it rarely happens!), or to slurp a vat of squash soup; but I just know that when I have an urge to splurge on beets it's because I am in need of a shot of iron. I feel like a ravenous bear getting ready for winter, and said bear is not easily calmed. However, short of giving myself a heart attack from daily doses of samosas and other fried goodies, I have been managing my hunger with this tart. Or a version of it.

If you understand French, the recipe is fine as is, otherwise my tweaked version follows. This tart is marvellous! I made it for Thanksgiving, and then I had to make another one the next day. And I have been nibbling on left-overs since! Worry not, I am not running the risk of poisoning myself with off food, this savoury tidbit freezes remarkably well, as does the filling.

I have not included a recipe for the crust, because, I must confess, I am a bit of a boob when it comes to pie crusts: I have had very little success with savoury crusts at home. I have a great recipe for a sweet shortcrust, and I am quite handy with puff pastry -but too lazy to make it at home- so I always use a store-bought all-butter puff pastry. If you have a good recipe for pie crust, go ahead and use it. I am really partial to using puff pastry for savoury tarts and quiches: when rolled out quite thin (3mm/ 1/8"), and pfully pre-baked, puff pastry becomes a crisp shell that is practically soggy-proof. (As you can observe from my photos, I was a bit rushed when making this tart, and the shell was somewhat under-baked and a tad soggy.)Whatever your preference of crusts, make sure you roll out the dough as thin as possible, and pre-bake until it looks done. Try to avoid those pre-formed pie shells in the flimsy aluminium pans: they tend to be very thick, and would overwhelm the filling. A perfect pie crust will quell any craving for fatty, starchy foods.

While the original recipe calls for butternut squash, any squash will do. You can even make it with raw, sliced zucchinis or other summer squashes, when in season. Butternut squashes are probably the easiest winter squashes to find, as they are quite popular with most chefs, however there is a slew of squashes that I, personally, find more interesting: delicata and acorn squashes (pictured above) are smaller than butternut, and tend to have a  drier, more flavourful flesh; buttercups have a tough rind, but it surrounds the fluffiest, starchiest squash, if it weren't for the sweetness, you'd think it was a potato; massive hubbards have a beautifully dark orange flesh, and a concentrated 'pumpkin' flavour. You can also recycle your Hallows' Eve decor, if you so wish.

Since this tart has Italian origins, it calls for typically Italian seasonings: sage and brown butter are usually paired with winter squashes (especially with squash ravioli or tortellini...); nutmeg is often used with ricotta cheese; and thyme has an earthy, autumnal-ness to it.


Winter Squash and Ricotta Tart
Makes one 20cm/ 8" tart

500g/ 1lb of squash
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 pinches thyme, fresh or dried
a few gratings of nutmegs, or a pinch of ground
3 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced, or a pinch of dried
1 Tbs butter
225g/  8oz ricotta
100g/ ½c grated Parmesan
2 eggs
1 sheet puff pastry

On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry as thinly as possible. 
Place dough in tart mold, making sure that every nook is filled and the sides adhere to the dough.
Chill the tart shell, at least 30 minutes. Trim the edges once the dough has fully chilled and relaxed.
In the meantime, peel the squash and cut into wedges (check out the original recipe for pictures on how to peel a squash.) Season with olive oil, salt and pepper, leave to rest while the oven heats up.
Pre-heat the oven to 220'C/ 425'F.
To make the filling: Mix ricotta, Parmesan, nutmeg, eggs and salt (about ½ tsp) until fully combined.
Melt butter in a saucepan. When the butter starts to bubble vigorously, add the sage and thyme, let cook until the butter turns a light nutty brown. Add to the ricotta mix. Set aside.
Place squash wedges onto a baking sheet, and bake for about 20 minutes.
Trim pie shell edges, fill with weights and pre-bake about 25-30 minutes (if using something other than puff pastry, baking time and temperature will differ.)
When shell is fully baked -try removing from mold and checking the bottom: it should be golden brown, and the inner surface should no longer look raw and damp- fill to ¾ with the ricotta.
Place the squash wedges as artfully as possible (don't worry if it looks messy, it will be beautiful when it comes out of the oven).
Bake at 180'C/ 350'F, for 20 minutes.

Fluted quiche molds are not very deep, but are just the right size for most tarts: they contain just enough filling for a super thin shell. A 20cm tart will serve 6 to 8 people as a starter, or 4 as a light lunch (with a salad).

My inner bear is satisfied. Ggrrrrr!

Bon app'!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Today is Blog Action Day. A day when bloggers around the world unite to write about a specific subject. We are thousands to write about this year's topic: Water. Check out what other bloggers have to say, join the conversation.

Water is a human right. Yet everyday, one out of five person goes without clean water; children, especially girls, are kept out of school in order to fetch water for their family's survival; on average, women and children in developing countries must walk about 6km to their closest source of drinking water. Water is the basis for life on Earth, yet water can also cause death and devastation, as seen in Pakistan, Louisiana, Indonesia, China...

Living in Canada, it's often difficult to imagine water being a scarce resource. After all, Canada is the country with longest coastline (243 042km); part of our territory (2%, or 200 000km²) is permanently covered in snow and ice; 9% of Canada (891 163 km²) is covered with fresh water, representing approximately 25% of the world's wetlands, and close to 7% of the world's renewable reserves of fresh water; the province of Quebec alone represents nearly 20% of Canada's drinking water. Canadians are indeed very water-rich. A fact we so easily overlook. In fact, the average Canadian takes clean water very much for granted: Canadians are one of the world's biggest consumers of potable water (at 439L/day per capita, it is second only to the US's 602L/day).

We depend on water to grow our food, as well as to supply us with a part of our diet. Yet, despite our water-wealth, Canadian farmers are yearly at the mercy of drought and floods.  The situation is even more precarious in other parts of the world. Water resources are so easily destroyed by human disasters, such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the chemical spill in Hungary. It takes a mere drop of petrol to render 25L of water undrinkable. Every year tailings from mines, whether open pit or underground, pollute water tables and riverbeds. Sources of drinking water and fisheries are daily endangered by contamination from uranium mine, the tar sands, and other industries.

Don't even get me started on seawater. The oceans are being pillaged, yet we do not even know what is being destroyed, since there has never been a comprehensive survey of the oceanic ecosystem. Since the rise of Jacques Cousteau and his ship Calypso, marine biologists have been scrambling to take stock before the seas turn into underwater deserts. We are only just beginning to understand the magnitude of the effects of pollution and climate change on the ocean and marine life. We are only just beginning to see the bigger picture: how we treat the oceans has an effect on what happens on dry land.

The facts are stark. The numbers are depressing. There is an urgent need for stricter water conservation policies.

Clean water is not free. Clean water is priceless. It is precious.

While we wait for things to change, here's what we can all do to conserve water.
Fix leaky taps: It isn't difficult. If it seems like an impossible task, call a plumber. 

Install faucet aerators: If you haven't already done so. Aerators add air to running water, giving the impression that lots of it is rushing out of the faucet: they can reduce your water consumption by up to 50%. You don't know any better, and your hands and face get just as clean.

Install low-flow shower heads: See previous. While you're at it, time yourself when you're under the water: shaving off just one minute from your shower time can save buckets of water (up to 500L/ month!).

Reduce your toilet's water consumption: Current toilets use only 6L of water per flush, while top of the line toilets and dual-flush models use a mere 3L. If you are not in the market for a bathroom remodel, there are low-tech methods to reduce your flush. Placing one or more water-filled bottles in the toilet's tank will reduce each flush's volume, however, it can also reduce efficiency. For those with strong constitutions, there is the 'no flush method'. And there are various ways to re-route grey water or rain water to your toilet; or one can simply collect said waters in buckets, and use them to fill the toilet tank.

Put your yard and garden on a water diet: Install a rain butt. Turn off the automatic watering system for the lawn, and use the manual override to water the lawn -only when it needs it. In fact, why not tear out the lawn, and install a less thirsty ground cover, such as creeping thyme or clover? Planting drought-resistant plants also helps reduce your garden's thirst.

Eat less meat: Calm down! I am not telling you to become a vegetarian! Just eat less meat, perhaps, even cut it out completely once a week. Did you know that it takes about 24L (6.3 US gallons, or 5.2 Imp. gallons) to produce a hamburger, bun and all? Add the burger's carbon footprint, and you've got a good argument for reducing meat's place on your plate. If only once a week.

Stop buying bottled water: Bottled water is the ultimate embodiment of wastefulness. It takes about 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastics water bottles consumed every year in the US alone; 86% of which are not recycled, and end up polluting the very waterways that fill those bottles. Most large cities in industrialized countries supply their constituents with perfectly safe, clean drinking water, paid for by municipal taxes. That same water we pay to have cleaned is now sloshing about in a plastic bottle sold for about 2$ a pop. Fill a pitcher with tap water and keep it in the fridge. If you still don't like the taste of your tap water, here's a little trick to improve its flavour.

Stop using the garbage disposal unit in your kitchen: Garborators are so dated! They are a drain (I couldn't help it!) on the system, and they waste precious resources: clean water, and compostable waste! If your kitchen still has a garbage disposal unit, you should seriously consider getting rid of that safety hazard. Start a compost pile to transform your food and garden waste into black gold, or participate in your city's composting programme.

Change your old appliances: If you are in the market for new appliances, make sure you purchase energy and water efficient models. In some cities, you can even get discounts from your utility company for buying efficient machines.

Be water-wise!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Reminder: Seeds for Pakistan

I just wanted to remind you that, in case you were planning on donating some seeds, I will be sending a parcel to Pakistan before the end of the month. If you want to add your contribution to my parcel, you can leave me a message at

You can also send your donation of seeds directly to the Techure Foundation, who will be taking care of distributing the seeds to small farmers devastated by this past summer's floods. The addresses are as follows:

Seeds for Pakistan
Care of Mr.Haseeb Afsar
Social Mobilization Team
Techure Foundation
First Floor, 368A
E17 5JF

Contact Number : +44-752 975 0050

You can also send them directly to their Islamabad office:

Seeds for Pakistan
Care of Mr.Humza Afzal
Regional Operations Head
Techure Foundation
21 Street 4
Sector C - DHA Phase 1
Islamabad - Pakistan
Contact Number : +92-333-5424-192 

This Pakistan flood no longer makes the news, but we mustn't forget that the Pakistani still need help to recover. Just yesterday, the United Nations announced that the damages totalled an estimated 9 billion dollars, not including the infrastructures. Less than a third of that amount has been donated so far. 

The seeds you donate will not reboot the agricultural industry in Pakistan, but it will help small subsistence farmers to feed themselves, their families, and their communities. For more information, you can email me, or you can read my previous posts on this campaign.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Killer Tomatoes, Part II

Okay. I'll admit it: green tomato ketchup can be a rather unattractive colour... Especially if one makes it with brown sugar. But it tastes so incredibly delicious, that one will turn a blind eye to its unappealing dirty green robe.

I've hesitated to post my recipe for ketchup for a long time. I've debated with myself, hemmed and hawed, and for close to two years I've mentioned homemade ketchup, but I'd never written up my secret recipe... It's not really a secret, I'm sure that it is quite close to most people's old family recipes, but it is my pride and joy, so I kept it jealously close.

But here it is, a tweaked version of my regular ketchup recipe (which is an adaptation of this Branston Pickle recipe). My regular recipe is basically a 'clean out the fridge, it's gettin' funky in there' kind of recipe -but today's ketchup spotlights the green tomatoes I harvested in a hurry-  you can actually use any combination of vegetables in place of the green tomatoes. Green tomato ketchup is a very French Canadian thing, and many recipes closely resemble sweet relish. It is usually used to accompany all those traditional meaty dishes that are ubiquitous to the French Canadian holiday spread such as tourtière, and cipaille. But you can use this ketchup with just about anything! It makes a scrumptious spread for a sharp Cheddar or Parmesan sandwich, with roquette, tomatoes, and a scraping of mayo. Mmmm...

My recipe calls for 300-500g of sugar: it sounds like a horrendously huge amount, and I will not deny that I love sweet ketchup (despite an abhorrence for sweet pickles and sweet relish...), but there are several reasons for using so much sugar in ketchup. First of all, it tastes good: ketchup is a condiment, used in small quantities to enhance the flavour of other foods -you're not actually supposed to eat it by the spoonful, or lick the jar, though you might be tempted to do so. Second of all, sugar is a preservative: you can make ketchup with a fraction of the sugar in the recipe (in fact, many ketchup recipes you will find on the web call for  under 1cup of sugar for the same amount of tomatoes); with all the spices in the ketchup, you will still have a very flavourful product. However, it will have very poor keeping qualities. Even if you sterilize everything meticulously, and preserve in small jars, you will lose a few to spoilage. If you do decide to cut back on the sugar, halve the recipe; can the ketchup in 250ml (½ pint), or smaller, jars to minimize your losses; and consume the ketchup within 2 weeks of opening jars. Finally, using the full amount of sugar will result in a gorgeous final product (despite the colour): sugar renders the ketchup glossy glossy glossy. It will positively shine! Low sugar ketchups tend to be on the dull side (in more than one way...) You can use either brown or white sugar: the brown sugar will muddy the ketchup's colour, but will impart it with a caramel-like flavour.

Green Tomato Ketchup
Yields about five 500ml (1 pint) jars

2.5kg/ 6lbs green tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 medium (± 450g/ 1lb) onions
15g/ 3tsp salt
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, coriander, ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp each ground nutmeg, cloves
300-500g/ 1½-2¼c brown or white sugar
3 cloves garlic
250ml/ 1c cider, malt or white vinegar
sweet corn, fresh or frozen, amount to taste, optional
1 red pepper, optional
1 red chilli pepper, optional

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and onions, crush garlic cloves. The ketchup will eventually be blitzed smooth, but if you prefer your ketchup on the chunkier side, chop the tomato and onions into small cubes, and finely chop the garlic.
Place the above in your biggest pot, add salt, and let sit for an hour.
While the tomatoes, onions and garlic are resting, mix the spices, sugar and vinegar, and set aside.
After their rest, the tomatoes will have rendered some of their juices: cook them over medium heat, taking care to stir the pot every so often, so that nothing sticks to the bottom.
When the onions and garlic are soft and the tomatoes are fully cooked, blend the lot until smooth. You can pass the result through a sieve to remove the tomato seeds, but it isn't really necessary.
Add the vinegar syrup to the pot, and bring to the boil, stirring often.
When the mix starts to bubble, turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let simmer until the ketchup is  reduced to the desired thickness: this can take quite a while, anywhere from 3 to 6 hours (if you make a double batch). If you own a slow cooker, now would be a great time to use it: just leave on the simmer setting, and keep the lid off. 
Stir the ketchup from time to time, to prevent it from burning.
If using, finely chop the chilli pepper, and dice the red pepper. These and the corn are optional, but add extra zing and sweetness, as well as colour to the ketchup (a good thing!). Add to the simmering ketchup.
When the ketchup is ready, pour into sterilized canning jars, seal, and leave to cool in a draft-free place.
When the jars have fully cooled, check the lids' seal: if they are not properly sealed, you can place them in a pot, fill with warm water, and bring up to the boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Let them cool, before re-checking their seal.
Properly sealed jars will keep in a cool pantry for up to -if not more than- a year. Improperly sealed jars must be kept in the refrigerator. Open jars of ketchup will keep in the refrigerator for about a month.

Bon app'!

* From the Department of Gadgets You Never Knew You Needed:

It's been a while since I last wrote about a useful tool, and this one is a biggy: the digital weighing scale. I just cannot wait for North American cookbook writers to get with the programme, and start consistently writing up recipes with weight measures. All European recipes are written up by weight; the British add imperial measurements, and the occasional cup; the Japanese use a combination of cup and weight measurements; and only in North America, are recipes written up in volumes.

(By the way, spoon measurements are standardized: 1 teaspoon is 5ml; 1 tablespoon is 15ml, etc... It must have something to do with medical prescriptions)

Volumetric measurements would not be such a big problem if they were standardized throughout the world, but they are not. For those of you living in Canada: have you baked a cake from an American recipe, and thought 'Gee, it really looks nothing like the picture, and it seems awfully heavy. I must have done something wrong'? You didn't do anything wrong per say: 1 Canadian cup measures out 250ml, whereas an American cup is the equivalent of 238ml. (In Japan, 1 cup measures 200ml!) It's not huge, but it can be the difference between a success and a flop. And if you happen to be heavy handed when you measure out your cup of flour... You might have noticed that a recipe you've made several times occasionally does not turn out the same way as usual. I often convert personal recipes (in grams) to cup measurements for the blog, and depending on my mood (state of mind and what not), 1 cup of flour can vary by 60g -which is more or less the equivalent of 3 tablespoons!

On the other hand, 1 gram of anything weighs exactly 1 gram anywhere in the world (barring slight variations due to altitude, but the variation is really slight, and your recipe will still be proportionally correct). There are a few things that cannot be easily weighed, such as ground spices, because they are too light, but for everything else, weighing them would prevent great many an error, and fewer people would give up on cooking!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!!!!

I thought it was the largest tomato I'd ever grown, but it turns out that this year's monster tomato (850g) is a few grams short of the one that grew on my balcony in 2008 (914g).

Perhaps, if I'd had the time to let it ripen on the vine, the tomato would have gained more weight. Unfortunately, a risk of frost was announced for this morning, so I picked all my left-over tomatoes yesterday. Under the rain. I was a little miffed when I opened the curtain this morning and saw that there as nary a speck of frost on the ground...

I haven't yet made up my mind as to whether I will let the bushel of green tomatoes ripen on the windowsill, or if I will be making endless batches of green tomato ketchup...

Mmmm... Ketchup.

Ketchup sounds really good right now. I get a Homer Simpson/ Pavlov's dog reaction when I think about ketchup. It's the sweet-tart, spicy goodness that livens up just about everything it smothers. When I was much much younger, red was my absolute favourite-est colour. I vividly recall that I had a deep-seated desire to have a scarlet wardrobe -and pink was not acceptable! My love of red was such that even my food had to be red: rare steak; very-pink-bordering-on-raw lamb; the ripest, reddest tomatoes; and ketchup on everything that was not red. In fact, non-red foods were mere medium to convey red ketchup to my mouth!

Luckily for me, my tastes and colour-favouritism have evolved over time.

Green tomato ketchup. I will mull over the idea, while I ready myself for a marathon session of Thanksgiving cooking.

If I don't sign in again this week-end!
Happy Thanksgiving Canada!
Happy Birthday John (wherever you are)! Peace out! 
And bon app'!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sunny October

I can't believe it's October already... Where has the time gone by? I must have been in a true funk not to notice that autumn had truly settled in. I saw the geese fly overhead several times already, I registered the fall colours, yet it only hit me this morning that summer was well and truly over...

October may appear to be the dying season, what with the plants and animals readying themselves for the unforgiving winter, but there is still much to be gleaned from fields and orchards. Gung-ho gardeners may well stretch out the growing season by growing fall crops, but I'm still harvesting my summer garden, as it is still not quite ready to give up just yet: my tomatoes are still producing a few pounds a day, and who am I to tell them it is time to stop?

What to look for this month:

Autumn Strawberries
When I was a child, strawberries in October were unheard of. Even those plastic berries from Florida and California were a rarity back then... But autumn strawberries are now a reality, and they are not a fruit to be sniffed at.  They are a little more pricey than summer berries, since fall varieties are a little less productive than their summer counterparts, but they are our last link to summer, so if you are craving strawberries, they are well worth the expense. They will be around for a week or two more, if the warm days stick around.

Apples, Pears
Apples and pears have already made an appearance a few weeks back, but doesn't October feel like their true month? I, personally, am not a fan of summer apples, I find them too soft for my taste, so I feel positively spoiled when the Russets, Empires and Spartans make their appearance on market shelves. Latter season Cortlands also seem to be more interesting than late-summer fares: the cold night air seems to crisp them up, and brings out more tartness. Supermarkets are also jumping on the local produce bandwagon, so you will be noticing a bigger variety, however, you should still be vigilant: my local store had 10 different varieties on offer, only three of which were actually grown in Canada. For a real smörgåsbord of choice, there is nothing like the farmers' market; that's where you will find old school varieties like Russets and crab apples. If you prefer your apples in the crisp or crunchy spectrum, keep them in a cool place - in fact, if you've already turn the heater in your home, keep your apples in the refrigerator.

Pears are a more borderline orchard fruit in Quebec, our winters being a little too harsh for most varieties. However, there are a few brave souls who still insist on growing pears. Belle d'Anjou, Bosc and Bartlett are the most common pear varieties grown in Eastern Canada, and they will be available for a few more weeks. Ripe pears are very fragile, so they are always picked under-ripe. Unlike many other fruits though, pears will continue to ripen and sweeten once picked, all you need to do is keep them out of the fridge until they have softened sufficiently. If you are in a hurry to eat a ripe pear, place them in a closed paper bag with an apple or a banana.

Both pears and apples are ideal for autumn desserts (such as this luscious cake I wrote about previously, either fruit can be used in the recipe), but they are also lovely paired with savoury dishes: try roasted pears and apples with a pork or duck roast... I'll bet you can even add pizazz to a humdrum turkey dinner with a nice apple and pear sauce. Or how about adding a few quartered fruits to the pan of roasting root veggies... I think I know what I'm making for dinner tonight!

Root Vegetable
Carrots, beetroot, parsnips, celeriac, rutabaga, turnips, potatoes, yams... the list goes on. Root vegetables are the quintessential autumn/winter food: they are nature's way of storing nutrients over the long cold months -mainly for the plants' use, but humans and other animals have learnt to appreciate their value during the season of little growth. Though they can be stored in the refrigerator, most root vegetables prefer being kept in a cool, dark place, like an unheated cupboard, preferably in the company of other roots vegetables.

Winter Squashes
The winter squashes have already hit the stands, even the pumpkins are making an early appearance this year. Just in time to test a few vegetarian recipes before Thanksgiving Day in Canada... Why settle for pumpkin pie, when you can have a squash and ricotta tart? I think I'm going to play around with this one...

Salad Greens
Lettuce, roquette and other salad ingredients are usually available year-round, but these plants actually prefer cool growing conditions, so are most abundant in the spring/early summer and in the fall. They often taste differently from those available at the height of summer, with fewer notes of bitterness, a tad more sweetness for some, and definitely more crunch.
Cabbage, Kale, and Family

Artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables. They do not readily grow in our climate, but they can be coaxed to produce even in Quebec with a little care. Although artichokes are really a spring crop in most climes (they are flower buds after all), they are an autumn produce in most of Canada.

There are few commercial fig growers in Canada, though I've heard that there are a couple of them in British Colombia... Oh, do I envy those of you who live over there. Figs do grow in Quebec -the ones above were spotted at the Montreal Botanical Garden- but require a lot of hands on care, as they are not hardy in our climate, so they are not grown commercially this side of Canada. Now is the season for figs in the Northern Hemisphere, and if you are lucky enough to know someone with a fig tree, now is the time to ply the said person with a few treats in exchange for a jewel of a fruit.

If you do get your hands on a few, try roasting them in a pan with a drizzle of honey. When the figs begin to crisp up at the edges, remove to a plate and serve with a spoonful of soft goat's cheese... By the way, it is almost the end of goat cheese season: large dairies and  a handful of goat herders do manage to produce cheeses all year long (from frozen milk), but if you are fond of raw milk goat cheese, you will have to hoard them while you can, because goats do not produce milk in during the winter months.

Cabbages and Family
Round cabbage; Savoy cabbage; pointed cabbage; Brussel sprouts; kales of all shapes and colours; broccoli; kohlrabi; bok choi.... The season might not be calling for coleslaws and other salads, but 'tis definitely the season for sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, braised sprouts, and why not a slaw with fall flavours?

Austrians prepare a warm slaw by thinly slicing cabbage over which is poured hot cider vinegar, thin slivers of crisp bacon and caraway seeds. The vinegar does not cook the cabbage, merely wilting it. Served warm, it is apparently rather delightful with braised pork shoulder... A vegetarian version can easily be made by omitting the bacon, substituting it with melted butter or some oil, and adding a pinch of cumin seeds. Serve it with a veggie pot pie or crispy roasted vegetables, and who needs roasted pig anyway?

I'm probably forgetting a whole slew of autumn treats, but I will be keeping an eye out for them! If you haven't yet stocked up on tomatoes and other summer vegetables for the winter, run, do not walk to the farmers' market: the bushels of tomatoes, peppers and what nots will not be around for much longer.

Bon app'!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Sweet Root

It's been pouring buckets over here. Positively torrential. It almost makes me feel nostalgic for those sweltering days, when I'd look quizzically up at the sky, trying to surmise if the promised rain would come already, because my garden was parched, and the rain barrels were empty... Almost. Now I just shake my head at all this rain, overflowing from the sky, flooding my alley, and spilling out of those same barrels that had turned to soupy sludge at the height of summer, before they were emptied out onto a garden that wanted more.

It's pouring outside, and all I can think of are a warm fireplace (that I do not have), and the pan of vegetables roasting in my oven. It smells so lovely, I wish 'smell-avision' existed so I can share this with you!

Roasted vegetables.

You might have noticed that I am a one-dish-dinner type of gal. I like mashed potatoes, on their own; a large bowl of soup for dinner; a tomato, sprinkled with salt, and nothing else. While most people will consider a pan of roasted vegetable as a side-dish for supper, for me, it is supper! And now that it is truly autumn, what better than a pan full of roasted root vegetables! Parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, onions, garlic, oh my! Such lovely, health-giving, hearty fare deserve to be treated as stars every now and then.

The first time I encountered a parsnip, I was 10. I was making my mum's birthday dinner and had decided on a scrumptious-looking menu as displayed in an issue of Homemaker Magazine. I don't know if that magazine still exists, but when I was a child, it was a quarto-sized booklet that was distributed for free in every suburban home... The pictures of food were so enthralling! They depicted stuff that looked so different from my parents' cooking, it was fascinating. My mum's birthday dinner was to be a roast loin of veal, on the bone, with parsnips and carrots. I had never even heard of parsnips before, and had to look it up in the dictionary to find out what it was and its French name (panais, if you were wondering). My father and I went on a wild goose chase to find all the necessary ingredients. I seem to recall that it took us two or three days to find everything, and we had to go to several stores before we could find a bag of parsnips. 

The meal took the better part of a Saturday to make. In the end, the most memorable part -for me, in any case- were the parsnips and the dessert (orange crème brûlée, with homemade candied peel). The parsnips were a revelation! They looked quite unpromising, all gnarly and dirty; bigger than any carrot we'd ever seen, my dad was convinced that they would be tough and fibrous. Some pieces were indeed a little woody, but most, after their sojourn in the oven, had transformed into tender morsels. They tasted faintly of carrots, but they were also creamy and starchy like sweet potatoes.

Parsnips are old school vegetables, like brussel sprouts, rutabaga, and jerusalem artichokes. These vegetables are what French chefs in the late 1990s liked to call les légumes oubliés: the forgotten vegetables that fell on the wayside in post-war Europe, when food rations finally gave way to a newfound abundance. Those vegetables sustained wartime Europe because they were easy to grow; kept for months on end; were hearty and stick-to-your-ribs kinds of veg that more or less of made up for the scarcity of meat. They were quickly abandoned when meat, sugar and other 'luxuries' became available again, only to come back in favour when super star chefs declared that they were good to eat. These old school vegetables are the winter bane of locavores because they are often the only true local foods in the dead of winter. But they can be oh-so-wonderful, if treated with the respect they deserve.

There are several ways to roast vegetables, from the relatively low maintenance 'prep and throw in the oven' method, to the slightly more involved 'parboil before roasting' method. The former is fine for most vegetables, however, parsnips can be a little stringy when prepared this way. Unless you are roasting your roots under a hunk of meat that will nourish them with its juices, it is best to parboil the parsnips in salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes. The timing really depends on the parsnip's size, but you should keep a close eye on them, you want them to  be just undercooked. These roots are notorious for turning from rock hard to mush in the blink of an eye! If you do end up with mush, don't despair, parsnips make a lovely, silky purée or a velvety soup (try it with apples! The combination sounds bizarre, but it is exquisite!) 

Once the parsnips are parboiled, throw them into a pan or baking tray (with sides), and season them. You can add other vegetables, cut to more or less the same size. Liberally coat with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, add a sprig of thyme if you like, and bake in a hot oven (375'F-450'F/ 190'C-220'C). It will take the better part of 30 minutes to cook, and you will have to shake the pan every now and then to make sure that each piece of veggie gets coated with oil. Don't worry if some bits start to colour a tad too quickly -they're the tastiest bits! In the last 5 minutes, add a heaping spoonful of butter: it will add loads of flavour, and give the vegetables a boost of caramelisation.

Bon app'!

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